There should be no shortage of motivation for either team heading into what is sure to be a playoff-type atmosphere at Soldier Field this Sunday.
The Chicago Bears need a win to keep from falling to what would likely be a sudden death situation in their final two games of the season. The Packers, on the other hand, can clinch their second-straight NFC North title with a victory. Throw in instigative comments courtesy of both locker rooms, and you know things are going to get nasty.
And that’s how this game is supposed to be.
Right now, the Bears hold the final Wild Card slot in the NFC (sixth seed), with Minnesota, Dallas, and Washington each just one game back (Bears own the tie-breaker over the Cowboys). The Packers are undefeated in the NFC North and are currently the projected third seed.
What I know about the Packers
The Bears are slumping, while the Packers are surging. Green Bay isn’t firing on all cylinders by any means, and having scored an average of 26-points per game while allowing 21 in recent weeks, they are certainly beatable. But the Bears have to prove they’re up to the task after losing four of their last five.
Chicago started the highly anticipated, over-hyped season an impressive 7-1, falling only to this very Packers team in embarrassing fashion in Week-2. And while Green Bay started relatively slow, they’re now 7-1 through their last eight, which is tied for the second-best record in the League since Week-6 behind only Denver (8-0).
The key to making and winning in the playoffs is to be playing your best ball now. The Bears aren’t.
Here’s what else I know: the Packers have owned Jay Cutler and this Bears team. At home . . . away . . . it hasn’t matter. Green Bay has won five straight and seven of the last eight meetings against the Bears (including playoffs), and will be aiming for their third season sweep of Chicago in the last four years (2009, 2011).
And that fella Aaron Rodgers, well, he’s playing pretty well, too. No other QB in the NFL has a better passer rating against divisional opponents since 2008, having connected on 584 of 838 passes (69.7%) for 6,955 yards and 54 TDs. His rate against the North is 108.8 since he became the starter.
I know that these guys appear to have found a run game, and are no longer an immediately one-dimensional opponent. The Packers have eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four of their last five contests and have averaged 135.8 yards per game on the ground over their past five games, ranking No. 8 in the League during that span.
I know that in these teams’ last meeting this season LB Clay Matthews notched 3.5 sacks, his single-game career high. And while he’s missed the last six weeks with a hamstring injury, he’s expected to play on Sunday, barring a setback.
I know that J’Marcus Webb was owned by Matthews in that matchup, and I know that he tweeted this out the other day: “JWebb Nation! You have my promise that I will go out and rock the left side for the Green Bay Game! I Got This! Bear Down!” Ahh . . . confidence restored.
I don’t tell you all of this to pump up the Pack. The Bears can beat Green Bay. I’m telling you this, because the Chicago Bears’ rival has had this team’s number for a long time, and right now, they’re playing better than the Bears are. It’s time for Jay Cutler and Lovie Smith’s guys to respond in a big way. If they can do that, it will change the conversation, and it could sway the direction of the 2012 season.
What I know about the Bears
I know that Lovie Smith is not happy with his defense. I know that the Bears turned some heads early this season with a slew of turnovers, which set them on track for all-time NFL records. I know that a lot of that was due to the play of their front four, and their ability to get pressure. I know that, recently, they haven’t been successful up front and it’s hurt the rest of the group.
The Packers, however, haven’t managed to keep from turning the ball over at least once in each of their last seven games, and if any team can capitalize on turnovers this Sunday, it ought to be the Bears.
I know that the Bears will need Jay Cutler to be at his best for them to make the postseason, or do anything with it if they do. Ironically enough, as the Chicago Tribune reported this morning, Cutler will head into this matchup hobbling on a sprained MCL. It was an MCL injury that took Cutler out of the NFC title game against this team in 2010.
According to the Trib., a team source said this injury is not remotely as serious as the more famous one from a couple years ago. Regardless, this new injury could limit Cutler’s ability to elude the Packers’ pass rush. Throw in a neck strain on top of it and the one guy you need to be at his best is banged up pretty good.
There is absolutely zero doubt that the Packers will be gunning for Cutler all night. They know that he’s that much closer to one hard hit away from grabbing some bench. The Bears’ defensive line needs to play with that same intensity and put a hurting on Rodgers. No, I’m not talking bounty stuff here, but this is football, and they need to get inside Rodgers’ head. The most effective form of communication is pain.
I know that in order for the Bears to quell the rush and have success on offense they have to run the ball 20-30 times without question, without fail. In order for them to do that, however, they need their defense to make sure they don’t get behind 14-zip like they did last week before anyone even realizes the game has started.
If you can’t get up for the Packers coming to town, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
The biggest issue in the Chicago run game is the questionable status of Michael Bush, who has been a key component at times this season, and who has missed practice all week (Wed. and Thurs.) with a rib injury. The Bears need him to go if he can and compliment Matt Forte. They also need Forte to step up his game, but even that comes back to the offensive line.
You can read the weekly injury report for these two teams here.
What does it all mean?
It means that I have no reason to believe the Bears will win this football game. I want them to. I think they can. And nothing would please me more than to watch the Bears embarrass the Packers and build some solid momentum. But if I had a good, sensible football reason as to why I think that will happen I’d have given it to you.
Last week my gut told me the Vikings would win, the fan in me wanted to punch myself in the stomach and tell it to shut the hell up. That’s what I did, and I was wrong. This time, I’m going with instinct.
Final score prediction: Packers 34, Bears 27
- Sunday will mark game No. 186 in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. The Bears hold a 92-87-6 edge in the series, which includes two playoff meetings (1-1).
- Six of the last nine meetings between the Packers and Bears (including postseason) have been decided by seven points or less.
- The Packers have given up just 65 points to the Bears in the last five meetings, an average of 13.0 points per game.
- The Packers have won four straight NFC North games away from Lambeau Field, the longest streak by the team since a five-game road divisional streak from 2006-07.